My First Comparison of the RED One and the ARRI Alexa Plus

by Beau Saunders


On my second day working with CLAi I was able to learn about RED’s largest competitor, the Arri Alexa Plus, at an event for DITs, DPs and cameramen generously hosted (with fantastic snacks) by Videofax in San Francisco. The presentation covered the new features available with the 4.0 Firmware release, notably built-in wireless remote controls, lens synchronization for 3D, and a new lens data system. During a question and answer session, most of the discussion focused on the cameras large dynamic range, and the way it reacted to adjustment of ISO.

I begin to see why there is such a fierce discussion of their comparison… both cameras shoot beautiful footage for HD or film output, they are almost the same size and weight, and both brands have a loyal following of users. But these similarities are paired with significant core differences. The Arri has a dynamic range of 14 stops, and does an outstanding job at maintaining detail in its highlights; the RED shoots 4.5K footage in RAW giving huge post-shoot flexibility. It is by these differences that these cameras separate themselves.

The high resolution and flexibility of the RED’s footage will appeal to some productions, just as the soft tones and latitude range of the Arri will appeal to others. Price will also definitely weigh in, as the Arri can be rather expensive to work with compared to the RED. The Alexa Plus’ $80,000 price tag (plus $30,000 more for the CODEX ARRIRAW recorder and data-packs if you want to shoot in RAW) leaps above that of the RED One. Even to rent, the price on an Alexa Plus with RAW Recorder is twice that of a fully loaded RED One M-X. Of course, the choice between having two RED’s on set compared to one Alexa Plus certainly warrants consideration.

But any true comparison of these cameras is always going to be problematic… the RED One was released 3 years ago. The recent release of the RED EPIC (with its boasted 18 stops of HDR range, and lighter weight) will shift the balance between these two companies yet again in an ever-escalating progression of cinematic power. As I reflect on the Alexa Plus presentation, and on my first week working with the RED, I am grateful to be working with such incredible cameras. They represent the best the industry has available for digital cinema, and are single-handedly drawing productions away from shooting on film. Is this the real beginning of the end for celluloid?